Monday, September 18, 2006

Japan Has 4 Seasons

Any time the topic of the weather is initially broached with students, they will earnestly tell you "Japan has 4 seasons." They tell you this as if this is a unique and wondrous situation which you, wherever you happen to have come from, probably have not experienced.

I'm puzzled as to where this misperception that Japan is a rare example of a country with 4 distinct seasonal patterns comes from for a couple of reasons. First of all, Japan is a small country but it's rather long and the weather is not uniformly similar from the north to the south. Hokkaido has rather different weather than Tokyo or Hiroshima so you can't really talk about the weather of Japan as if it were all the same.

Where I grew up (Pennsylvania), we actually did have 4 distinct weather patterns in each season. In fact, we had the kind of seasonal weather that you see illustrated on Christmas tins, greeting cards, and books to give one a feel for each season. Winter is cold and snowy. Spring is warm, rainy at times, and sees flowers open up. Summer is hot. Autumn is cool, windy and full of colorful leaves. That's 4 distinct seasons.

If Tokyo has 4 seasons, they are fall, rainy season, summer, and typhoon season. The winter is incredibly mild and usually sees no more than 4 days of small amounts of snow, if that. The summer is very long and usually uncomfortably humid. Spring and fall, if you gauge them by the weather and not the calendar, last about 2 weeks each. Right now, we're in the throes of typhoon season.

During this time, the weather changes rather dramatically as the typhoons pull either hot or cold air into the area. Today is 7 degrees warmer than yesterday. Last week during the previous typhoon, the weather dropped about 10 degrees when a typhoon blew in.

One thing we see happen as a result of the intense humidity during the rainy season and typhoon seasons is the paper on the doors between the living room and bedroom ripples and bubbles up from the humidity (normally, the paper is smooth). The picture at the top shows the effect. I'm pretty sure that this probably isn't good for (cheap) building materials and contributes to some of the general deterioration you see after a short time in an apartment.


Roy said...

I think it's one of those things that Japanese say. It sounds acceptable in Japanese but when you say it in English it sounds kind of obvious. There are a bunch of these expressions that unfortunately I can't think of at the moment.

Shari said...

I've always thought that was part of it but they always follow up by saying something about how many seasons they think I must experience considering my location in the U.S. I'm guessing they think I don't see much of a summer in the northeast.